Concentric Circles of Engagement

Constituents and the general public

Inform the public and solicit input. Provide accurate information to broader group and avoid misinformation

Technical and subject-matter experts

Engage resources to gather science, technology, policy, and other data

Form committees and/or technical teams to deliberate and enlarge perspectives and opinions

Committees and subcommittees

Core team

Create consensus recommendations or decisions, share responsibility and joint ownership of outcomes

FIGURE 6.2 Concentric circles of engagement

Source: Adapted from: “Core Values, Ethics, Spectrum—The 3 Pillars of Public Participation.” Iap2. erg International Association for Public Participation, www.iap2.org/general/custom.asp?page=pillars. Accessed 29 Aug. 2020

engagement process may be needed to ensure that the collaborative governance group is accountable to the broader public or to particular subsets of the community (see chapter 8).

Clarifying the Processes for Decision-making and Conflict Resolution

From the very beginning, collaborative governance groups should establish the process they will use to make decisions and resolve conflicts. As set forth in chapters 7 and 8, most decisions in collaborative governance processes are made by consensus. However, consensus is defined very differently by different groups. Some define consensus as a supermajority of the group’s members, others describe consensus as an agreement that satisfies everyone and is not achieved until every member expresses that same satisfaction, while still others believe that consensus is achieved when everyone can live with the decision. Creating agreement on what consensus specifically means to them is often where collaborative governance groups will experience the most tension and debate in organizing themselves.

A group can benefit by recognizing that no matter how it defines consensus—and regardless of whether the group reaches consensus or not—seeking consensus as a group has value. Consensus-seeking involves a commitment to work toward understanding each other’s perspectives, concerns, and interests. In a consensus-seeking context, objections to a popularly supported proposal can be taken as a sign that more work is needed to uncover new perspectives or new information that might improve the proposal.

Sometimes groups reach a point where they simply do not agree on a particular point. In order to continue seeking consensus, some groups find it helpful to delineate the specific actions they might take to resolve the conflict. For example, in some instances, representatives of differing sides meet outside the full group to mediate the disagreement. They might form a small group to work through the differing opinions and develop options to bring back to the full group, or they might opt to seek further information or input from an outside party. However, a group can be explicit that when all participants believe that further exploration or conflict resolution will not yield any more understanding or agreement, they have done their best to seek consensus.

Considering, at the outset of a process, how a group will move forward in the absence of unanimity is essential. The options may be: a group member can simply decide to stand aside, which means they do not support the decision but will not block it; the group can create a report or compile recommendations summarizing where the group agrees and noting areas where they disagree; a group can decide to advance majority recommendations and include a minority report; or they could opt to declare that they are at impasse and allow all entities the freedom to take alternative actions of their own choosing. The best option will depend on each group and situation. We advise against using voting as the fallback if the group does not reach consensus. Majority voting, even supermajority voting, can undermine a group’s dedication to genuinely seeking the understanding that is a critical component of consensus-seeking. A group tends to stop listening for new information once participants know they have enough votes to pass a proposal. To foster engagement and joint ownership in the process, a group should achieve clarity about how it will handle conflict when it arises, and how to proceed when members do not arrive at unanimous consent.

 
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